Welcome to the first in a comparison series between the ESV-CE and the NRSV. Reader CattusDei recently requested a comparison of the two in the hope of choosing one of these translations for a One Bible, One Year (OBOY) challenge. I’ll select one of the Sunday readings each week and quote from the two translations. For this week, I’ve chosen the second reading:

Sunday, November 15th, 2020 — Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6:

ESV-CE:

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.

NRSV:

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.

10 thoughts on “ESV-CE vs NRSV: 33rd Sunday in OT”

  1. Marc,
    Thanks for putting up this comparison. I thought it might be interesting to put up a comparison of the RSV with two of its “children.” That is the NRSV and the ESV. I found no important difference between the three. (No one’s salvation will not be endangered by reading one or the other.) The only difference, which we will see related to inclusivity. Oddly, in some cases the RSV appears to be more inclusive than the NRSV and the ESV is the most inclusive.

    I put the three editions in a side by side table, which aids in comparison. However, this Comment section does not allow me to paste the table. Here it is one on top of the other:

    RSV
    But as to the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When people say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape. But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.

    NRSV
    Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.

    ESV
    Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.

    Also, for information below is a comparison of the Jerusalem Bible with the USCCB Lectionary (Note if you compare the NABRE to the USCCB Lectionary you will see that the NABRE is much less inclusive)

    Jerusalem Bible:
    You will not be expecting us to write anything to you, brothers, about ‘times and seasons’,
    since you know very well that the Day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night.
    It is when people are saying, ‘How quiet and peaceful it is’ that the worst suddenly happens, as suddenly as labour pains come on a pregnant woman; and there will be no way for anybody to evade it. But it is not as if you live in the dark, my brothers, for that Day to overtake you like a thief. No, you are all sons of light and sons of the day: we do not belong to the night or to darkness, so we should not go on sleeping, as everyone else does, but stay wide awake and sober.

    USCCB Lectionary
    Concerning times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.
    When people are saying, “Peace and security,” then sudden disaster comes upon them, like labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief. For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.

  2. I recently got into an argument (perhaps debate would be better because it was not hostile or unfriendly) about the sheer silliness of “inclusive language which is well illustrated by this comparison.

    When I said that I prefer a rendering like the ESV ‘brothers’ to something like the NRSV ‘brothers and sisters’ because it is less cumbersome and the sentence “flows better” I was informed that ‘brothers’ was unacceptable because such a wording “excludes women”. I replied that it has been universally understood for centuries that generic masculine pronouns include women as well.

    I then asked ‘what about children, aren’t they being excluded? Shouldn’t it read “brothers and sisters and children?” and I was informed that this was unnecessary because it is understood that “brothers and sisters” is understood to include children by implication. Which is exactly the same argument i used when I argued that generic masculine pronouns include women.

    Since both traditional and inclusive language advocates both end up in the exact same place, arguing that people not explicitly mentioned should be assumed to be included unless context suggests otherwise. what exactly is the point of inclusive language? Why make sentences awkward and ruin the “flow” of the paragraph when in truth do called “inclusive language ‘ does not even achieve its goal anymore than standard English? Why not just use standard English and avoid the hassle?

  3. To use standard English in 2020 is use brothers and sisters to refer to both genders. Brothers is archaic.
    You can debate the merits of the change, but it already happened. To advocate for the inclusivity of brothers is to be the one advocating to change the language as it currently is used by most people.

    Generic masculine pronouns once did include women. But language evolves. Apples once referred to all fruits generically, now it refers to only a specific type. Students across the grade spectrum are being taught that you don’t use the masculine words to refer to both genders. I would say this is nearly universally true for anyone under 30. It was already well underway when I was going through my public school rural education and I am 35. Newspapers and articles also follow this rule as do most editing guidelines.

    You really only find the “not yet archaic” use of “man” and “brothers” only in Bible translations now a days. And at Christmas time. It is slowly becoming an affectation like “thee” and “thou”. Or a sign of withdrawal from modernity.

    1. Devin,
      I agree!!
      I only put the different versions to see the comparisons. Sometimes we let these issues block us from gaining the important insight and message of God’s words. Perhaps, one day there will be a digital version of the Bible that will let you dial-in your preference for inclusivity and word choice for items such as: “Young Woman” vs. “Virgin” in Isaiah and “most favored one” vs. “full of grace” in Luke etc. In that way, what can be an excellent translation will be read with enthusiasm versus being thrown down in anger and never opened again.

      For serious Bible Study, my personal axioms are that one translation is never enough and when using commentaries two is not enough.

      In our Catholic world, where the vast majority of Catholics presume that they don’t need to open up a Bible because they are reading the Bible through their participation in the liturgy; I would suggest that the best translation is simply the one you will read.

    2. It doesn’t matter what “standard English of 2020” uses. What matters is what the original language says, and the original languages of the Scriptures do not use multiple words to refer to men and women (“brothers and sisters”). It’s just bad translation philosophy, plain and simple. And several things you state above to back up your assertions, especially regarding education, are nowhere near universal. Perhaps you were taught to avoid masculine words when referring to both genders, but I certainly wasn’t – and you’re quite a bit older than I am. Should the Bible be translated into the “standard English” of your part of the world, or the “standard English” of mine? Or should it be a faithful representation of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek instead?

    3. So we must language because as Christians we have a duty to conform to the cultural zeitgeist of the moment? Surely, we can do better than that. Christianity is inherently countercultural and ‘a withdrawal from modernity’.

  4. I think the NRSV’s inclusive language would be considered retrograde in some quarters at this point. At many tech companies for example no one would write “brothers and sisters” anymore as that could be offensive to trans people who do not identify with either gender. One would need to say “friends” or something like that. The vogue is not just to be gender inclusive (“brothers and sisters”), but gender neutral (“friends”).

    I don’t have a major problem with “brothers and sisters” here, although I prefer “brothers”.

  5. As others have already mentioned, the differences are minor in this reading. Both read really well to me.

    The NRSV will add connectives like “and” that I guess are not in the original. Sometimes I slightly prefer the more terse literalness of the ESV in those cases. For example:

    NRSV: “for you are all children of light and children of the day;”
    ESV: “For you are all children of light, children of the day.”

    I prefer the ESV here, suggesting that the two phrases are similes. The ESV sounds a tad more poetic to me here. That’s an exceedingly minor difference though. (The ESV is also prosecuting what R. Grant Jones humorously calls its “war on semicolons” here. 😉 )

    Is there a difference between the NRSV’s “let us not fall asleep as others do” and the ESV’s “let us not sleep, as others do”? To me the latter suggests a state of living (in sin or complacency perhaps), rather than a single event (“I fell asleep”). Again I prefer the ESV here, but it’s a very minor difference.

    I know that everyone says that the ESV is slightly more literal, and that the NRSV has a slightly higher literary quality, but I don’t always find that to be the case. I find the ESV’s terseness to be more poetic at times, and open to more shades of meaning. The NRSV is more smoothed out – sometimes to the point of putting me to sleep! They are both fine however.

  6. NRSV and ESV both render grēgorōmen as “keep awake”.

    That isn’t wrong, but in the context Vulgate/Douay/KJV all render it with some shade of vigilance/alertness/watchfulness, eg, “let us watch, and be sober.”

    I prefer this, as St Paul is quite obviously admonishing them like we might admonish a guard on duty not merely that he avoid falling asleep, but that he “keep his eyes peeled”.

    This is not a big deal, but the word choice of the Vulgate/Douay/KJV rendering manages to convey both meanings elegantly while ESV/NRSV only one.

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